To Be “Milk” or Not to Be? That is the Question!

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UPDATE: Comment Period Extended Until October 11!

August 27th is Deadline for Comments to FDA on Milk Standards of Identity

Background Information for the purpose of preparing public comments to the FDA concerning Standards of Identity for Milk

 

On March 29, 2018, FDA introduced the  “FDA Nutrition Innovation Strategy,” a comprehensive effort to review labeling of foods and an impact on human health, particularly in relation to preventable and chronic diseases.

“An almond doesn’t lactate, I will confess.”  And with those words, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, in a July 17 report by Politico,  amped up the debate about the relabeling of plant beverages which label themselves as ‘milk,’ which many believe are misleading and deceptive.

Although firm enforcement of FDA standards of identity should have been implemented several decades ago when “Plant Beverages” or “Nut Milks” first began to creep onto ‘dairy’ shelves, they were not.  No one knows the reasons why, but here we are, now with a debate and labeling examination which will cost taxpayers – and companies – millions of dollars.  Here’s some background:

A History:

First, it’s helpful to actually read and know about the standards as they exist:

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Standards of Identity for ‘Real Milk” were established in 1938 in the Federal, Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Part of the controversy results from the “real” vs. “processed” (aka ‘fake/faux ) nutritional properties of real milk.  The Wisconsin Agriculturist, in a July 23rd, 2018 article written by Fran O’Leary,  describes it this way:

Real milk provides eight times more naturally occurring protein in every glass, is wholesome and simple, and is a minimally processed beverage. Real milk also has no added sugar. The sugar in real milk is lactose, which is a naturally occurring sugar. Many types of nondairy milk, such as almond milk, contain sugar. Tell that to your friends and family members who believe otherwise.”

The Wisconsin Agriculturist concludes that article by quoting an emphatic statement from the American Dairy Coalition, which reminds real dairy advocates:

“It is crucial the dairy industry speaks up on the issue,” the American Dairy Coalition said in a statement. “We can no longer stand by” and allow plant-based beverages to be labeled as milk.

On July 26, 2018, the FDA released an official statement concerning its reasoning and approach to re-working milk / dairy labeling standards.

This statement occurred in conjunction with a July 26, 2018 Public Meeting to Discuss FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy.   Several industry stakeholders went on the record with comments at that meeting, and those comments can be accessed via links here. 

Public comments on the FDA Nutrition Innovation Strategy will be taken until August 27, 2018.  (Update / 3rd week of August:  comments now taken until Oct. 11.)  Comments can be posted at this docket folder. (Electronic – OR – written/mail delivery submission is acceptable!).   It is particularly important for dairy FARMERS – those whose livelihood depends most directly on the sales of milk from their farms – to comment either individually, and via any producer organizations of which they are members!!

A Kathleen Doheny Article from WebMd:
“[Gottleib] . . . said the agency has ”probably not” been enforcing the standard of identity — and as a result, this nonenforcement has become the standard.”
– Agency will be ‘modernizing’ the standards of identity
– Comments expected be taken for a year
– Intentions to enforce standard of identity

The article also notes that plant / nut beverage sales increased 61% from 2012-2017, while Real Milk sales decreased 15%.

This proliferation of plant-based beverages has led to sales of those products which are expected to reach over $16 Billion (in US Dollars, but referring to the total world market value)  by the end of 2018.  That competition is in two forms: 1) dollars which have been removed from dairy communities & economies across the United States, and 2) Hundreds of Millions of gallons of real milk from real cows which no longer has a home, and has led to a long cycle of depressed prices which is steadily killing rural economies.

Much of that market displacement – and resultant stress on rural economies –  is believed to be because plant “milk” is a term which cannibalizes and preys on the goodness of natural milk, and the proven knowledge milk is natural protein source, readily absorbed by the human body.  

Spirited Plant-Based Advocacy Organizations and Individuals will challenge Real Dairy / Real Cow-Goat-Sheep-Mammal Advocates:

It should go without saying, but never doubt that those organizations and businesses who continue to build their financial empires while opposing the enforcement of standards of identity of “Real Milk”  will be relentless and tireless in their fight to bend the narrative in their favor.

A collaborative editorial in a Boulder, Colorado, web-based publication, advocates for the blurred lines and gray areas which are the basis for the advocacy of truth-in-labeling for those who believe traditional standards of identity exist for a reason.  Their citations to many will be questionable, and in some cases, outdated in their accuracy, particularly in the Greenhouse Gas Emission discussion.   At least one commenter suggests alternative beverages be called ‘milk substitutes.’

The Good Food Institute, whose website has the tagline “Creating a healthy, humane, and sustainable food supply,’ has already submitted this letter on July 23rd, before the July 26th hearing.

Food Navigator, in an article written by Elaine Watson, relays views of a firm which recently raised $24 Million to commercialize ‘animal-free proteins.”  According to the article, the company ‘takes food grade yeast, and adds DNA sequences . . . which instruct the yeast to produce the proteins found in milk.”

[Note: Admittedly, this technology is morbidly fascinating, but also gives real meaning to the terms “Sci-Fi Food” and “Frankenfood.”  We really, really need to ask ourselves:  just because we can – should we?”] 

 

Dairy Farming: continued decline, will it stabilize, or more consolidation?

It is no secret that the dairy farming industry is in a sea change of transition from smaller (400-head or smaller) herds to large herds of 1000 cows or more. And with that change, rural ag economies, the agribusinesses and services which serve those dairy farms are at risk themselves.

From New York, to Virginia, to Georgia, to Wisconsin, and to other regions, reports of dairy farms exiting from the industry are almost of epidemic proportions.  If these were job losses from a ‘factory in a big building’ closing, the public outcry would be deafening. However, because dairy is so scattered across the landscape and not contained in a single building like an industrial building, the loss of these economies is often a silent erosion that gets little public notice.

One example of some of the abuse that has occurred:

From The Cheese Reporter: Sunflower Butter!  A bid request from the USDA itself

But let’s give credit to #TraderJoes, who actually has an acceptable label on their plant beverages!  Kudos to them, and I’ll be back in their stores because they get it right! This is an example to others that it can be done!

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Additional Links to Consider (and look for others to be added before Aug. 27th!):

From Feedstuffs:  Gottleib:  “FDA . . . is invariably likely to get sued”

For now, please begin to do your homework, and draft your comments.   It could be as simple as “Real Milk comes from Cows, Goats, Sheep and other mammals.  Make this simple, and have “MILK” be labeled that way!”

From the American Dairy Coalition – Background & bullet points:

You can save time, and comment via electronic means directly to FDA via the portal.  As you do this, please remember your comments may be able to be viewed by the public.

And here’s a link to the portal to comment by October 11 deadline – Comment here.

  • As of 5:00 pm on Monday, August 20, 496 comments were received.
  • As of 11:59 pm on Sunday, August 26, 2,303 comments had been posted.

Please make sure that by late evening, on Monday, August 27, and now on October 11, your voice will be among them too.

#MilkTruthMatters  #IdentityMatters  #RulesMatter

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Proposal for Multiple Component Pricing in Southeast Withdrawn

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National All-Jersey has withdrawn their request  for a USDA-AMS Dairy Program FMMO Hearing to consider implementation of Multiple Component Pricing for the Southeast (FMMO 7) and Appalachian (FMMO 5) Milk Marketing Orders.
The withdrawal of this proposal culminates a process of several years of discussion and evaluations by producer groups and several dairy cooperatives on how Multiple Component Pricing in the Southeast might affect producer pay checks.
Following is the timeline of this spring’s events:
April 2, 2018: National All-Jersey submitted their 80-page proposal  requesting a hearing.
May 2, 2018:  USDA-AMS then posted an Action Plan.
May 16, 2018: An information session was held in Knoxville, in Knoxville, TN, which was coordinated by Tennessee and Kentucky Farm Bureaus.  The session was recorded in two parts, and each are available for viewing:
  • Part 1:  A 1 hr – 39 minute video recorded by TN Farm Bureau (Dana Coale, explaining FMMO process)
  • Part 2:  A 1 hr. 14  minute video recorded by TN Farm Bureau  (FMMO Administrators and officials explaining the specifics of the process leading to acceptance or denial of an MCP hearing)
June 1, 2018:  Two additional proposals were submitted to USDA-AMS:
  1. A  7-page request from Michael Brown, Director, Dairy Supply Chain for Kroger, stated: “We ask USDA to also include the a proposal to lower the minimum amount of Class I Sales required a distributing plant to achieve pooling status from 50% to 25%. “
  2. The Tennessee Dairy Producers Association, with Stan Butt as Executive Director, submitted a 16-page proposal in opposition to Multiple Component Pricing, with this opening statement:  “Opposition to the proposal submitted by NAJ to changing the current pricing structure in FMMOs 5&7 is based on the proposition that the majority of producers in both orders will be negatively affected.”
June 11, 2018:  A letter-to-the-editor written by John Harrison, Sweetwater Valley Farm in opposition to Multiple Component Pricing was posted by Progressive Dairyman.
June 28, 2018:  The letter withdrawing the Hearing request,  written by Erick Metzger, General Manager of National All-Jersey, posted at USDA-AMS – Dairy Program,  contains these statements:

 
“Marketing conditions in the Appalachian and Southeast Federal Order Marketing Areas are in a state of flux, aggravated by challenging national dairy product markets.
 
The proponents therefore withdraw their proposal for a multiple component pricing hearing in Orders 5 and 7 at this time.”
The letter closes with:
 “We anticipate resubmitting the proposal when the current marketing  challenges have stabilized and resources necessary to advance the proposal again become available.
Here is the letter in its entirety:
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All USDA-FMMO processes are directed and defined by a set of rules, including procedural rules.  It is up to farmers themselves – those most affected by FMMO rules and regulations – to learn the process, and to participate in the process. 
This spring, and the preceding years and months of information seeking, are an example of civil discourse which can occur.
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TN June Dairy Month: Kickoff Luncheon & Then 4-H at work!

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It’s ‘Raise A Glass’ Time in Tennessee!!

For several decades, the Tennessee June Dairy Month Kickoff has been the launch for events across the state highlighting Tennessee’s collective dairy industry.  The 2018 event was held at Battle Mountain Farm, the event venue of Hatcher Family Dairy Farm, College Grove, TN on May 30.  The rural setting, with Holsteins and Jerseys grazing in a nearby pasture, emphasized that tasty and nutritious dairy products truly do begin on a farm.

This event honors several aspects of Tennessee 4-H involvement in dairy related activities.  4-H County Chairmen, who conduct dairy promotion and awareness events across the state are recognized.  The Tennessee 4-H Dairy Quiz Bowl Finals are held. And always, an inspirational speaker brings life’s insights to 4-H’ers as they return home to begin June Dairy Month events.  Their activities allow them to compete for awards in several categories, which are presented at the next years events.

This year’s event was organized by Denise Jones, of The Dairy Alliance, who put the engaging tables and decor together and set a great dairy mood as folks entered the beautiful event venue.  She was assisted by Joan Benton and Cindy Cooper of The Dairy Alliance.

Following are some photo highlights of the event.

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Emma Mull, McMinn County, Grace Rich, Clay County, and Elizabeth Bright of Loudon County, are three of several County Dairy Month Chairs who have a full slate of activities planned.

You can follow Grace on Instagram as ‘udderlylegendairy,  Emma will be social on Facebook as McMinn County June Dairy Month, and Elizabeth Bright’s creative videos and spots are on Facebook at June Dairy Month – Loudon County.  Look for other social promotions and public activities from chairmen in your area of TN!

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Part of the setting front and center of the banquet hall, framing the dynamic Denise Jones, the event organizer, of The Dairy Alliance!  Did you know MILK is Tennessee’s Official Beverage?  It was given that designation in 2009 by the Tennessee Legislature.

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Three 4-H’ers, who will become future consumers, related how their participation both in Dairy Production Projects and Nutrition, Health, and Fitness projects, have made them appreciate dairy’s unparalleled nutritional benefits, along with the hard work of Tennessee farmers who produce that milk. Abigail Ferguson, Ashley Bell, and Kathryn Fellhoelter all gave great presentations.

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Marshall County is the winner of the Dairy Quiz Bowl Competition, and will be headed to the National Contest later this year.

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Some more of our Tennessee County 4-H Chairmen!  Do you know who the 4-H Dairy Chairman is in your county?

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Jeff Aiken, President of TN Farm Bureau, and a former dairy farmer himself, represented the organization as an event sponsor, and brought words of encouragement to those attending.  He was accompanied by many Farm Bureau staff members from across the state, as they came to support the TN June Kickoff event.

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Do You Know “What’s Your Why?”

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George Wilson, who retired from the Tennessee Titans after an NFL career with several teams, challenged the audience with the question “What’s Your Why?”  A two-time Walter Payton Man of the Year in the NFL, he inspired with point after point:

  1. Be the first to show up, and the last to leave. Be grueling, tough, and unrelenting in the pursuit of your dream!
  2. Be mindful of what you do and the choices you make, and of those whom you allow to make decisions for you.  [He began at an SEC school, Arkansas, on an academic scholarship, walked-on and made the football team, and then was able to receive a football scholarship because someone got arrested and lost the scholarship they had.  And that set the stage for his 11-year NFL career.]
  3. Sometimes in life, “Opportunity is Disguised as Hard Work!  [It took 15-16 years of hard work and sweat on the football field to finally get a starting position on an NFL team and an interception against the cowboys on national TV.]
  4. “I give of myself because others gave of themself to me.  THAT’S MY WHY! He prayed, “Lord, if you you allow my dream, I will give back.  And then noted, “that is a debt I’ll never repay!”
  5. Why does he care about Fuel Up to Play 60?  Because his thoughts were captured by this statement: “We could be raising the first generation of kids who won’t outlive their parents.  FUTP 60 puts power and decision-making in the hands of students who participate in the program.”

 

Celeste Blackburn, President of TN American Dairy Association, served as MC for the event, and gave Mr. Wilson an appreciation gift featuring some of Tennessee’s farmstead dairy products.

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At the event close, Jimmy Hopper, Assistant Commissioner of the TN Department of Agriculture overseeing TDA’s Consumer and Industry Services Division, was honored with the TN Outstanding Dairy Promoter Award. One of Hopper’s responsibilities was overseeing the Dairy Quality Division, charged with quality and safety on dairy farms and in milking barns, in processing plants, and addressing retail dairy sales outlets.  Jimmy went above and beyond a ‘job description’ to serve Tennessee’s dairy industry.  And he did it with class and respect for all he worked with. During his tenure, Tennessee’s first robotic milking barn was installed.

The Tennessee Cooperator has a great summary of Hopper’s career.

Always a man of humility, Hopper encouraged young folks present to find a dairy farmer and work with them for a while.  He noted there was no better role model for developing a work ethic that would serve one well throughout a career.

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McMinn & Loudon 4-H’ers Helped with a Milk Drive on World Milk Day!

Wasting no time getting started with June Dairy Month promotions, and in a way that serves others, the McMinn Co. 4-H Chairman, Emma Mull, and Loudon County’s Elizabeth Bright spent World Milk Day (June 1) helping Second Harvest in East TN at the Randy Davis Memorial Milk Drive. 

The event they participated in was held at Lenoir City, in Loudon County, Tennessee’s #1 Dairy County.   On that one night, in a 4-hour period, 1457 gallons of milk were purchased and loaded on a Second Harvest refrigerated truck, destined for distribution to neighbors in need in their 18-county East TN service area.

These annual events, held onsite with the cooperation of Ingles Groceries in East TN, encourage purchases of milk at the groceries for the purpose of distributing milk to hungry neighbors.  With their hands-on approach, the onsite drives encourage human-to-human connections in the spirit of giving back, and ignite a life-long spirit of being a benefactor to the community.

Customers coming in to the grocery stores can contribute in two ways:  they can make monetary contributions, which the Milk Drive Team uses to purchase milk from the store, or  they can purchase the milk themselves and bring to the waiting Second Harvest Refrigerated Truck.

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Tennessee Agriculture has had a very difficult spring in 2018, dealing with price and market challenges in all sectors of agriculture, Dairy included.

With future consumers enthusiastic and connecting with farmers and industry leaders present, the 2018 TN June Dairy Month Kickoff served as a happy occasion to remind us all in the TN Dairy Industry to reflect:

So, “What’s Your Why?”

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Dean Foods to close 7 plants in 2018; No additional producer letters expected soon

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(NOTE:  This is an evolving story affecting Dean Plants across the country.  Sources are a variety of public information and anonymous sources.  Updates will be made as warranted).

Dean Foods will be closing 7 processing plants in seven states in the next months, with the plants located in Kentucky, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota.

News of the plant closings began to emerge through local news outlets in some of the cities involved through the day Tuesday, May 22nd, yet, at this posting, there are yet no official statements from Dean Foods corporate officials.

This announcement follows the jolting announcement in early March that over 100 farmers in 8 states, marketing milk as Dean Dairy Direct (independent producers, meaning not members of a co-op or marketing agency) producers, would have their contracts terminated as of May 31, 2018.  At this point, many of those farmers have found new markets, several elected to disperse their herds, with several still struggling to find a market and income source for their farm’s milk.

The navigation of stormy, wind-tossed oceans of milk in the overflowing worldwide dairy milkshed has led to the announcement that these processing plants will be shutting their doors during the late summer and fall.   Intense competition to find a processing market/plant for milk, exacerbated by declining milk consumption the world over, has converged in a perfect storm of farmers getting caught in the crosshairs with no markets for their milk, along with employees in processing plants losing their jobs as well.

Competition for the prime retail real estate of grocery store shelf space is also a factor in these events.

In the southeast, the two Dean Foods plant closures at Braselton, GA and Louisville, KY follow the early May announcement of the closure of a Fulton, Ky plant, owned by Prairie Farms.  In that event, processing operations will cease, but the facility will remain a distribution center, with 12 of 52 employees remaining.

An anonymous Dean Foods source says that “no more farmer/producer contract terminations via letters from Dean Foods are expected in the near future.”  However, we all know that increasing consumption of fluid milk is the quickest way to stabilize the future of all dairy farms across America.

The Dean plants said to be closed are:

  1. (News report: not initially confirmed by Deans)
  2. (News report: Member of founding family not bitter) 
  3. News report:  (Processes gallons & half-gallons, 120 employees)
  • Braselton, GA [Mayfield brand]   (2015 Dean’s CEO Quality Award Recipient)    (Visitors Center closed in 2014, reopened, Over 1 million folks a year to learn) (Reports from anonymous employees who received notices)
  • Louisville, KY    [Dean’s brand] News report link to WKYT) “That loss will cut production at the company’s Louisville plant, which will shut down.”

This announcement is only one in a series of cost-cutting measures Dean Foods has taken over the past several years.  A PET milk plant in Richmond, VA was closed in the fall of 2017.   In a Food Business News report of March 1, 2018, phrases such as “increasing competition,’ ‘6% decline in volume,’ and ‘reset cost structure,’  were signals more changes are to come.

The Louisville plant closure comes as no surprise, due to its distribution overlap into Indiana of retail centers to be served from the new Walmart milk processing plant opening in Fort Wayne, IN.  However, the opening of that Walmart plant has now been pushed to late summer, for a variety of reasons.  A recent report by Sherry Bunting, which appeared in the Farmers Exchange, features an interview with a Walmart spokesperson on that project’s status.

The closure of the Braselton, GA, Mayfield plant, may have come as a bit of surprise to some folks.  In 2016, this display in the Visitor’s Center relayed some stats which were current at that time, however, today’s employee count is closer to 150.  It is not known if this includes distribution networks.

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Dean Foods, as of an annual Dairy Foods (magazine) report, last published in the August 2017 edition, is the United States second largest milk processor, with Nestle being #1.

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As is common with any company treading in difficult waters, reports of a sale of the company, or of a merger and acquisition, are commonplace.  Sometimes they prove to be nothing, sometimes they prove to be true, and only time will tell which is the case with Dean’s.  It truly will be in the best interest of the United States dairy industry for the company to stabilize, due to the number of farms for which it provides a market, and for the number of employees in plants across the country.

The hardest truth of all of this is that ultimately, farmers in local regions, the rural economies that depend on a viable market for those farmers, and employees at plants, are the ones suffering the most from battles at all levels of the worldwide milkshed. 

Updates, and corrections if needed, will occur as more news becomes available.

 

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Multiple Component Pricing for FMMOs 5 & 7; A Meeting, Action Plan, Information

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Will Multiple Component Pricing be implemented in the Appalachian (FMMO 5)  and Southeast (FMMO 7) Milk Orders?
Multiple Component Pricing, a way to value milk at the farm level based on components found in milk (protein, butterfat, and other non-fat solids),  rather than the skim/butterfat pricing currently implemented, is on the table for the two geographically largest milk orders in the Southeast United States.
Florida and Arizona do not price milk based on MPC, and those areas are not included in this current request for change.
An April 2nd request for a hearing to evaluate the implementation of Multiple Component Pricing for Federal Milk Marketing Order 5 (Appalachian) and FMMO 7 (Southeast) was filed with USDA-AMS by National All-Jersey, Inc.  The 86-page document can be reviewed here.
A great article concisely summing up the request and important factors has been written by Dave Natzke of Progressive Dairyman; read his perspective at this link.
The Tennessee and Kentucky Farm Bureaus have joined together to host an information meeting before the request for Multiple Component Pricing is fully evaluated; A Federal Order Hearing on the matter is tentatively scheduled for July 30, 2018
This May 16th meeting provides producers with a means of direct contact with FMMO officials who can explain not only the MCP proposal, but milk market pricing in detail, and how producers’ milk checks are affected by various market factors.
The details about this FB Information meeting, scheduled for May 16th in Knoxville, TN, are:
What:  Meeting with Dana Coale, Deputy Administrator for USDA -AMS Dairy Programs, along with several officials of Market Administrator Offices in Federal Orders 5 & 7
For:  Any dairy farmer in Federal Milk Marketing Orders 5 & 7
Organizers:  Meeting has been organized by TN and KY Farm Bureau organizations
Several state Farm Bureaus have been involved in dairy farm matters in the past few months – please give them a THANK YOU!)
Date: Wednesday, May 16, Knoxville TN  11:00 am
Time:  Sandwich Lunch @ 11 am; Lunch begins promptly at Noon EDT
Where: University of TN Ag Campus, Hollingsworth Auditorium. Plant Sciences Bldg.
             2505 East J. Chapman Drive; Knoxville, TN  37996
For:  Any dairy farmer in Federal Milk Marketing Orders 5 & 7
Purpose:  To discuss current market procedures and proposed market changes
RSVP / Register by May 11th: 
        Roxann Sanders – Email at rsanders@tfbf.com – OR
                                      Phone at 931-388-7872, ext 2231

The Invitation Letter and Announcement:

Jeff Aiken, TN Farm Bureau President, and Mark Haney, Kentucky Farm Bureau President, co-authored this meeting invite, which was also mailed to dairy producers:
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The Meeting’s suggested agenda:

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Following the announcement of these Knoxville, TN meetings, USDA-AMS has posted an “Action Plan” with a proposed calendar of activity related to Multiple Component Pricing.  Please note additional proposals can be accepted until June 1st!
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Resources for Additional Consideration  (Highly suggested reading!!!):

Multiple Component Pricing (MCP) first began taking place in the Federal Order System in the Great Basin Milk Marketing Order in 1988.  [The Great Basin Order is referenced in this 2002 testimony to a Western Milk Marketing Order Hearing.]
Since that time, several orders have consolidated, but the great majority of the United States dairy producers are paid on a MCP basis.  At this time, this map generally defines the geographic locations of FMMOs across the United States, however, California was conducting a producer referendum, in which voting ended on May 5th to finalize entry into the Federal Order System:
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Producer groups in the southeast, including the Kentucky Dairy Development Council, the Georgia Milk Producers Association, and the North Carolina Dairy Producers, have endorsed a Multiple Component Pricing structure.  The Tennessee Dairy Producers Association is currently opposed (as of May 10th).
Each and every producer should take the time (and it may take a few hours) to evaluate Component Pricing and how it will affect your farm’s income in the future!  Isn’t your farm’s future worth that time?
AND – each producer is highly encouraged to attend the May 16th meeting in Knoxville to have a chance to ask direct questions to USDA-AMS officials.
Your future income depends on accurate information – please make the most of this meeting opportunity!
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Dairy Needs to Develop Wisdom – 1 gallon at a time!

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Go Time: National Milk Day 2018 – Change can begin: 1 gallon at a time.

On this National Milk Day 2018, the dairy industry needs wisdom more than it ever has, at any given time in history.
(Note – this is revised from an original posting late night on National Milk Day 2018.]

There’s one official #NationalMilkDay, but for many of us at the grassroots level of dairy, everyday is #MilkDay!  Some of us operate dairy farms, some are nutritionists for dairy farms, some service equipment and provide other supplies for dairy farms, some of us communicate about and with dairy farms. We Live Dairy, #WeLiveMilk, and we work long hours, because a cow’s clock never shuts off, and first and foremost, we take care of those cows, because they take care of us!

But right now, this dairy industry – beloved by many,  revered by some, and often illustrated with warm and fuzzy memes and pictures on social media –  is hurting badly.  With the warm and fuzzy memes, perhaps farmers ourselves are trying to convince each other it’s ‘not that bad.’
But it is.  It is really ‘that bad.’ The dairy industry – that ‘family farm’ dairy industry that sustains a lot of rural economies from the east to the west coast  – is threatened like never before.   Calm, sane, salt-of-the earth, they-would-do-anything-for-you folks are indicating an undercurrent of despair and concern  at a level greater than the 2008-2009 price crisis.  And if those farms are threatened – the industries that serve them in local ag economies – are threatened as well.
To get to a solution, the collective industry, along with consumers, is going to have to do two basic things:
a.)  First – admit that “IT REALLY IS THAT BAD,” and then
b.)  Each layer of this industry –  from farmers, to service personnel (nutritionists, agribusiness, etc),  to milk buyers (including co-ops), to processors (some independents, some owned by co-ops), to distributors, to retailers – is going to have to set aside the ‘me’ factor.  And when the ‘me factor’ is set aside, then each individual person in each layer is going to have to begin to ask itself – ‘what can I do to stop the bleeding, and then right the ship?’
And then the big thing – each individual is going to have to take action. A lot of action. Likely with some sacrifice. We’ll get to that, although it may take a few blog posts to get there. (Patience, please!)
Many farms are operating at unsustainable financial levels, and it’s only a matter of time before the equity runs out, the loans quit coming, the market improves, or they are forced to go out of business.  It is, very unfortunately, a race to the empty barns. Many local and regional industry participants are predicting there’s going to be a massive exit of ‘family’ farms (for the purposes of this post,  I’m speaking of of 200 cows or less, and I will even include 500-700 cow herds in that mix) in the next 6-8 months.
Pride prevents many farmers from talking about how bad it really is at the farm level, but make no mistake – there are more hurting than are doing well at the moment. And most are too busy taking care of cows to do anything about the huge problem.
For every type of occupation or career with ‘dairy,’  jobs or farm businesses and ways of life are threatened by a myriad of factors right now, with these two factors the main ones
(in a very simplified description):

1.) There’s a world-wide glut of inventories of milk powder and cheese, compounded by overproduction as each individual farm around the world tries to generate enough milk to help pay bills in any given week.  Dairy is a supply-and-demand business first and foremost, and there’s a world oversupply, which reduces prices received by farmers around the world.

While we often are seen as ‘feeding the world,’ the ‘world’ is eating a lot of local farm finances, and farm futures, more than at any other time in history. 
To get rid of inventories, sellers on the big world markets are undercutting each other every day, frequently with prices at unsustainable levels as they make their way back to the farmer. Again, it’s a global marketplace – a very competitive, very cutthroat marketplace.
The general thought in this big-picture world of supply and demand is that ‘making no money’ would encourage folks to sell out, get milk and cows off the market, and exit the dairy business.  But again, dairy farmers historically have an infamous internal grittiness that allows them to withstand situations, sometime to the point of financial extremes.  I’m not saying that’s smart, I’m saying that’s the grittiness of a dairy farmer.
b.) Costs such as equipment and labor are continually going up, and farms are difficult, if not impossible, to operate without either.   Even ‘family’ labor needs to pay itself. Thus, the squeeze – the squeeze that’s sucking the life out of local farms, and the local, rural communities in which they are located.
Each of these two factors are complicated with a number of other intertwined layers, but those are the highpoints right now. I’ll stop there, because otherwise, a book as long as War and Peace could be written.
The problem of ‘hurt’ is compounded by plant-beverage marketers belittling real milk and presenting false info to an urban social media audience who seemingly would rather drink in the questionable misinfo and half-truths presented by 99% of ‘faux milk’ companies. Gullible consumers have sucked up that fearmongering and misinfo.  I have no answer for that at the moment.
However, that plant-based market is said to be worth over $16 Billion in the coming year. If 75% of that used to be dollars received by dairy farmers, then that’s $12 Billion (a guesstimate) that has been pulled from dairy farmer pockets. Along with that, think about the miles of retail shelf space  that used to be occupied by Real Milk, and which consumers would pull that milk because it was there.
A solution starts with a very simple action: 
Buy fluid milk.
Real Milk, from Real Cows.
NOT faux milk.
NOT nut beverages.
NOT plant extract milk.
But REAL MILK, from REAL COWS.
WHOLE MILK is BETTER.
You can drink it yourself, you can donate it to a food pantry, you can feed it to your cats, or take a milk bath. (10 gallons of milk for silky skin – now there’s a thought!)
Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@foodsheds) and Facebook know that I often post about drinking real milk, and a lot of times from local farms that I know. After all, they’re the ones in my local agri-economy, and just as much I want my own family’s farm to survive, it is critical for others in my local agri-economy to survive, too.
Why, you may ask? I would really like for consumers to learn about milk brands and dairy products that support farmers in each’s own ‘local’ area, and then help neighbors in each local area, first. Getting local milk off of local shelves can be a demand-increaser and supply-mover in your area.
That’s a market signal, and that drives milk sales. If you support your local farming communities, you help support your own local ag economies, and help protect the means for food security, close to you.  A sea-change of items will have to occur, but legislation and innovative new markets each take a lot of time, and we are running out of time.  A market signal such as milk flying off shelves is the quickest way to begin sending money back into farmer’s products.
Most farmers worth their salt don’t want something handed to them, but rather, they want to earn it – EF Hutton style. Each succeeding farm generation should feel this way, too.
Farmers in general kind of like the risk and the challenge, (or else they wouldn’t be farming at all), but they prefer risk that’s on a bit more of a manageable level than the farm economy is at the moment. Rather than comfort, they would like comfortable risk. (granted, a bit of an oxymoron)
Why should a consumer care about dairy farmers – or farms at all – on National Milk Day, and on any of the other 364 days in a year?
I’ll tackle that on a deeper level in the future (another War and Peace length piece), but for right now, here’s the short version: those nearby local farms are your children’s and grandchildren’s best bet for food security 50 and 75 years from now. That food security will serve society best when it’s in the hands of a a multitude of local farms, instead of huge Amazon-style corporate farms far, far away.
And if something doesn’t change, your ‘local’ farms will be a thing of the past, in the not-too-distant future, and those Amazon-size and Amazon-style farms will prevail.  A lot of flavor we treasure in local cultures will dry up.  Milk (or any other foodstuff), may or may not be ‘cheaper,’ but at what cost to society as we lose local rural communities?
Make no mistake – that’s the path we’re on. And a war to save local family farms has got to start. Now.  Absorb that for a bit (or a few days).
That said, I’m going to have myself a glass of local milk for a nightcap. Mayfield, Weigel’s, and Laura Lynn (bottled by Ingle’s)  are all in my fridge at the moment – it will be one of those! Borden and Sealtest (also bottled by Ingle’s)  could also be considered local for me (farms in a 150-175 mile range of my East TN location.)
In the upper southeast – Prairie Farms counts for local, but it’s very local in the upper midwest (Indiana to Iowa, up into WI).  As you approach the Gulf, look for Publix, and some Kroger milk in Georgia area Kroger stores. Through the Carolinas up into Maryland,  Maola and Pet are good bets. As you head up the East Coast and into NY and Pennsylvania, the brands will differ – we’ll try to work with some other dairy folks, find those brands,  and list them in the future.
The brands of ‘local’ will again be different where you live in the midwest or west coast or  make a point to ask ‘where the farms are?” that are found in a carton or wrapper of any dairy product.  And be warned – many national retail chains use the word ‘local’ in a very loosey-goosey fashion.  “Local”  to where, and “Local”  ‘how?’ is never defined, and is meaningless, particularly when it comes to dairy. Don’t take their word for it.
Please join me in prayers for Providential Wisdom for the Dairy Industry.  This is originally posted as National Milk Day approaches midnight,and the verse Matthew 25:40 keeps repeating itself:  “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”   If we as a society are judged by how we treat the smaller and mid-size farms, how will we measure up?
I have no answers for the long term, and indeed there are many answers, but we can start with ‘one’ – one neighbor in a city to one neighbor on a local farm, and a purchase of one (or two!) gallons of milk. Pray with me. Drink Milk with me. Develop in Milk Wisdom with me!
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Pumpkins For Sale in East Tennessee!

Got pumpkins?  Well, this farm does!  And they are for sale!

This year, Grahaven: The Graham Farm, located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains near Newport, Tennessee, has grown pumpkins.  Traditionally, this has been a row-crop operation growing corn and soybeans, but this pumpkin project is a means to diversify our crop mix a bit.

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To get started, we’ve kept it simple:  two varieties of Jack-O-Lantern Style, Aladdin and Kratos, and Big Macs, the larger, decorative pumpkins which make a big splash in yards, on porches, and in those beautiful fall displays that just make folks happy!

We’ve enjoyed watching them grow, and seeing lovely scenes like this:

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But the time has come for these lovely orange bright spots of happy glowing orange to find new homes in yards and on porches everywhere!  So – we’re hoping you give us a try!

These pumpkins are available in WHOLESALE lots:

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QUALITY?  We’ve been testing their quality a bit, and we know some of the first ones pulled (first week of September) are good three weeks plus later!  (this posted on Sept. 26, 2017).  They’ve been out in the sun, on a glass-top patio table, and have yet to show any wear at all!

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The pumpkins have been grown under the watchful eye of farm personnel, along with frequent visits by qualified agronomists providing advice on pumpkin fertilization and stewardship.

In addition to the Jack-style pumpkins, we’ve got some of those lovely large Big Macs – just thing for huge yard or business displays!  These are great for pumpkin-scaping everywhere!

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As time goes on, we’ll share more about the pumpkin project and how it has evolved.  We are evaluating if this will be on ongoing crop, or a short termer – many factors will play into that decision.

There might (notice the ‘might’) be an on-farm pick-your-own event a bit later in October.  [October 21st, likely, if it happens – so ‘sort of’ save that date!].

In the meantime, for current updates, please follow us at our Facebook page!

You’ll know you’ve found us when you see this Facebook PROFILE Pic:

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And this is our Facebook Cover page:

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And lastly, a BIG THANK YOU to the many family members, friends, neighbors, farm associates, agronomists, and customers who have helped pick pumpkins and get this thing started!  (You’ll hear more about them later, too!)

Most of these posts on this blog deal with issues or event related to the worldwide Milkshed, but since my personal milkshed began with a family dairy farm, and the family farm is now growing pumpkins, and since pumpkin season is now upon us – well you get the picture!

Please – share the word there’s some pretty decent pumpkins that can be bought in East Tennessee!   Wholesale price lists are available on request.  Please call 423-797-1853 for more information.  Please come by!

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